If you know me, then you usually only know one or two aspects of my life. I have writing groups, teacher groups, running groups, and a couple others. Rarely do the bubbles knock into each other.
Sometimes I forget when I reference a situation that is not “native” to that group.
This week while talking with some writer friends they said they kept forgetting that it was St Patrick’s Day this week. I told them it was Wednesday but I wouldn’t be doing anything because it is my school meeting day.
“How do you remember that it was this week?” they asked.
Kindergarten is its own world sometimes. I explained to my friend that in kindergarten we celebrate EVERYTHING.
Some celebrations are large with parties and things I have to buy!
Some are small celebrations in the classroom with cheers and songs and air high fives.
Every major holiday (and we have some sort of teacher apparel to go with it) is noted and celebrated. There is writing and reading, songs, and ,sometimes if we can get away with it, a craft of some sort.
We celebrate 100 days of school which requires items to be brought in, 100 crowns to be constructed, and centers that deal with all things 100 to be set up. We probably count to 100 more than 100 times that day.
We cheer for lost teeth and finally being able to count to 100 by 10’s.
We celebrate a wonderful sentence written and an amazing group story that we just wrote.
We celebrate our favorite books and their authors. We send them tweets and cheer when they tweet back.
Birthdays are special. If you don’t have a birthday during the school year then you get an UN-Birthday.
Why do I do UN-birthdays? I had a first grade teacher that assigned me an UN-birthday like in Alice in Wonderland because I had a June birthday. It was the only year my entire career of school that I was able to bring treats for the class. It made a huge difference to me. I never forgot it.
How can you not celebrate for all these things when there is a room full of 5 and 6 year olds who bring you magic every day?
What will you celebrate today?
I invite you to #10minfor10days already in progress!
Today one of my delights is Llama Tuesday! What is this strange reference to Tuesday you ask?
It isn’t the beginning of the week — it isn’t hump day — it isn’t Friday Eve- it’s just a normal ordinary “do what you need to do” day. I decided it needed something special to liven it up that was my own. People make up holidays all the time so why not me? This was the day Llama Tuesday was born.
Tuesdays used to be the day my favorite podcasts came out. There are still many that drop today that I love [MFA Writers, The Next Right Thing, LaVar Burton Reads…]
Llamas are a little ornery. They spit, they can be pretentious, and have a bit of an attitude. I think that Llamas and writers have a lot in common in these ways so I started to slip it onto the end of my blog posts. You might notice when I post for Slice of Life Tuesdays that I reference llamas.
I started posting a random “Happy Llama Tuesday” message in my regular writing community on Slack as well as the bottom of blog posts. At first, I didn’t offer any explanation. I just wanted to see if people would notice.
Now it is a regular practice and the tag line now is “Happy Llama Tuesday — Celebrate accordingly!” So you might celebrate by being a little sassy that day or bring a smile to someone’s face. It is not the customary greeting which can catch people off guard pleasantly.
The llama has popped up here and there. A friend tagged me in an Instagram post yesterday with a llama. I got llama notebooks for Christmas. A friend on a Zoom call pointed out her llama earring! FUN!
I wasn’t expecting the Llama to have such a lasting effect but I am glad she did!
I say to you — HAPPY LLAMA TUESDAY! Maybe you can greet someone else today and make them smile!
Many people shared with me what they wrote with the first prompt! This was thrilling for me!
Erica Johnson shared with me!
Here are some others:
What drained me:
Time change hangover
not writing enough this morning before work
Being called “teacher” after 91 days…
Walking and slipping several times and hurting myself temporarily
All the traffic
What I learned:
There is a lot of great things that happened today that I need to focus on rather than what drained me. I need to appreciate those things for the simple fact that the highs wouldn’t be so high if it weren’t for the lows!
I would love to hear what some of your answers are for today if you are willing to share in the comments.
Come join me and other teacher writers at the Two Writing Teachers blog. Every Tuesday teachers blog a slice of their life and others comment. It is a wonderful community.
One of my favorite questions is, “What inspires you?”
Here in Wisconsin, there are hints of November. I am in the midst of NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) and getting ready for Thanksgiving. The weather however is warmer than it was in the spring. It has been over 70 degrees here over the last couple of days.
I am feeling a bit rebellious about it. I should not be wearing a t-shirt and shorts to walk. I will have to use this feeling and details in a story this week.
This week in class we are utilizing the website Mystery Science. The kids really like these videos, as do I, because they are interesting and we always learn something new.
Yesterday we watched a video about poisonous plants. We learned about the Manchineel tree that can kill you. We saw trees that had grown around signs, benches, motorcycles, and bikes. Not only did it ignite lots of conversation from my 5 year olds it fueled our writing as well. The students wrote in their journals what a tree would “eat”.
One little one kept saying, “That is terrifying!” I write down their comments all day long. I have to go back through my teaching notebook and log them all in a document. The kid speak alone is gold.
The video even inspired my writing. For one of the daily prompts I needed to write a story from the POV of something that normally doesn’t have one. I wrote from the perspective of this tree with the warning label.
What has inspired you that was surprising lately? I would love to hear in the comments.
This school year feels like it is everyone’s first year teaching no matter what year you are on.
A friend recommended a book by Debbie Ford called The Right Questions. There is power to questions. The first one in the book is: Will this choice propel me toward an inspiring future or will it keep me stuck in the past?
As I was making notes on these first two weeks of the new school year this question was floating around in my head.
After 7 years as a coach, I went back to the classroom. As I have written before, there is a list of reasons for this movement. It is a step of learning and experience. I believe it is an important step for me necessary for an inspired future and what I want to do next.
How does this change serve me? One of the ways is to experience teaching again in a day to day way. Kindergarten is the year where the I am required to think about the simplest explanations for the most complex ideas. In kindergarten there is potential for stories in everything. Five year olds make connections and say things that are unusual and is one of my favorite parts of the job.
When I teach, I make micro-movements in instruction based on the students actions. I am taking this year to analyze how I do this in real time. This year I have the advantage of recording my meetings with students so I can go back again if there are important breakthroughs that happen in class.
There has been two weeks of this school year so far and all prep. Breaking down what I have done with my time is important for my own learning.
-There has been lots of professional development and meetings (all virtual). Some meetings have been done well, and others not so much. I am always analyzing how people conduct their trainings so I can learn what to do and what not to do in my own.
-Everything is new for everyone. The overwhelm hit us all at different times. There were moments that people felt like there were too many changes. This happened for first year teachers and the 30 year veterans. We all feel like we learn and then stumble around in the dark and find our way again. My team is wonderful and we help each other. The strengths we have become everyone’s because of the sharing. We teach each other. I have not had a true team in a long time.
-Contact with parents is always a tricky area for me but a requirement. We are must use Class DOJO and SEESAW here at the beginning. Parents are familiar with DOJO we were told. I have issue with starting with too many things and then changing.
In the Spring, I had success with text messages for contact with parents so I did the same this fall.
I sent this message to my parents this week:
Hello! This is Mrs. Breitweiser (child)’s Kindergarten teacher. I just wanted to reach out and say hello.
Material pick up starts tomorrow.
We will have a combinationof live and recorded teaching in 2 sessions. 8-11 and 12-3. Please let me know which (child) prefers.
Let me know if you have any questions.
Follow up texts required answered questions. I also sent this message:
What is something you would like me to know about (child)? Something that is her/his favorite? Or a special story?
I use the child’s name as much as possible. I send audio messages talking to the student and short video messages as well.
-Virtual open house was successful. We had two 30 minute Zoom meetings and I had over half my students show up. There were smiling faces and cats on the screen. The virtual tour of the classroom and my live explanation of the learning kits were a hit. I introduced myself with a list of favorites that I told the students they would answer starting next week. I showed pictures of my family. Whatever we show our students is what they think we value so those first impressions are important.
It was important to me to tell the parents my past teaching experience. I want to assure them I am qualified to teach their child so they feel as secure as possible.
In the virtual tour I showed all the places where I have the student’s names. I want them to know that it is their classroom even when we are far away.
-Having to be in the building has helped with focus for the start of school. I had some frustration with this requirement especially on the days I spent most of the time in a chair in a meeting in front of my computer. Another focus that is a positive is that it is easier to fast while at school. There is no food there and it requires effort to get in the car and leave if I am stressed.
Do I feel prepped enough? I think so. If something goes wrong then I will pivot and we will use it as a learning experience.
I will make a list of things to remember before Tuesday at 8am.
There is a list of things I want to make sure to remember. If I don’t? I will write it down for the next meeting. This is the same practice whether I am in real life teaching or virtual.
We will see how it goes! I know for certain my choice propels me to the future I create.
Over the past 7 days I have been working in my classroom, reseraching and attending virutal PD.
Some of the PD has been great…other sessions not so much.
I always attend workshops with the idea of examining how the presenter choses to deliver the content. I have done this since college. I write down the way people start meetings, how they show content, how they have participants interact…or not. I steal what I like for my own presentations.
Here are some things I have learned, or were reminded of, from the content and being a student over the last week about virtual learning:
One of the biggest pet peeves I have about PD is presenters who conduct a training in the opposite way of how they would want you to teach kids. The workshop you are presenting is a model to the people you are teaching. I went to more than one workshop where they talked at us for over an hour. Please. Don’t.
I learned about this video that brings some things into perspective. I wrote about this idea in my newsletter last week.
Kids are vessels that are already full of experiences and knowledge . We need to remember they are not empty just waiting to be filled.
Relationships are the center of everything.
Think about your own school life. Who was an influence on you and what did they do? Connect these ideas to your own teaching.
One presenter used breakout rooms with the adults expertly. We were given a task independently and then asked to talk in the Zoom breakout room. Then we were asked to make a sticky note on the class Jamboard to show accountability. Brilliant! This one I will use for my own workshops with adults. Kindergarten will take a lot of scaffolding for it to happen.
Grade level work needs to be taught to students. This is an equity issue.
I can keep track of what to keep doing, start doing and set aside for now. I like this structure for unpacking what I already know.
To build relationships virtually I need to schedule more one on one time with my students.
I also need to provide virtual social time for my students.
What have you learned in this new time we are in about teaching?
Every August there is the feeling like air is slowly leaking out of a balloon. As each day ticks by on the calendar we get closer to the first day of school.
How do you get ready?
This year the world is not the same which is the perfect opportunity for you to create a new kick ass ritual. You need a series of actions that lead to going back to the school year.
I use EL education materials and one aspect of this curriculum is CREW. Crew is the term EL uses which I used to call Family Meeting. It is time about learning and relationships. A book was released and I ordered it right away. It should be here by Monday!
Back to school shopping: In order to be a happy writer and teacher I need supplies. I have many friends that do not even have kids who are thrilled all the supplies are displayed in the middle of all the stores.
I am going to buy some new school shoes. It goes back to going shopping with my grandparents. A new outfit too.
I will also search the names of my new students (when they are available!) I keep checking.
I will plan the first week of school and start making my massive pile of read alouds.
Another thing I am doing this year to connect my personal passions with my professional ones is starting a Patreon. I kept trying to figure out how to serve my readers and people in my professional circle in a streamlined way. I have been saying lately that my offerings are for “Teachers and Friends of Teachers”. It makes for the most interesting group and mix of life giving conversations.
There are 142 days left in 2020. I have going to do a #100writingpromptproject for the last 100 days. My supporters will get access to a daily prompt, an exclusive community, and write in times to get together with others.
I also am expanding my coaching services and workshops. Now all the information for my events will be in one place. I am super excited!
How Verbalization Can Help Us All Be Better Writers
Last summer I was honored to attend a literacy conference where Cornelious Minor spoke. I took copious notes and was able to have many conversations with colleagues in the evening. That is the advantage of being at a multiple day conference – you can chat with your tribe about what you learned that day and move forward with plans for the schools.
Over the last 25 years as an educator and attendee of conferences, I have learned to synthesize my notes at the end of the day. I read back through them and fill in the gaps of half written sentences and ideas. I fill out more of the story that was shared I want to remember as an example for teaching later. I also make checklists of action items, things to further research, and people I need to talk to.
I learned Minor also takes notes in a real notebook and carries it around with him all the time when he does workshops. He is full of stories of living in New York and of students and teachers he has worked with. He had to scan all his old notebooks recently because the paper journals were taking too much room in their small NY apartment.
This conference was full of personal connections for me as well. Not only did I have the advantage of having great friends with me to confer with but also a consultant we had worked with for years. I also was able to meet someone in person from Twitter and a connection from a reading board we both had served on at different times. Overall it was three days of connection and learning.
I reflect on this experience this morning and wonder when this will happen again – if ever.
Another way I synthesize info is to skeleton plan a workshop before I even leave. I think about if I were teaching this material to others when I return to where ever I am going what would my spin on this look like. Since the beginning of my career I have paid attention to the nuts and bolts of how presentations are deployed. How did the presenter get everyone engaged? What questions did they ask? Did they do an ice breaker? How did they get people to talk? How did they build relationships? I compare these ideas to my own style and make notes about how it would look for me.
If I am taking a plane I always write and make action plans in my notebooks on the way home. There is something about being away that has a magic spell quality to it. When the wheels touch down at the home airport you have to return to the normal schedule. You fall back into natural tendencies and routine and don’t always use the new learning.
When I started teaching I also made a pact with myself that if I took time to be out of the classroom, I would make sure to use one thing the day I returned.
I do love to give presentations. I have had to move to a virtual world which bring its own complications, but I know how to pivot!
It gives us tools to deal with struggle. Everyone has experiences and something to say. We have all been broken in some way or another. This applies to us (teachers, or friends of teachers) as writers and our students.
Writing gives us power over our struggle. A way to deal with it and reframe. To try out ways to tell it to other people. It is a powerful device of possibility.
As teachers we create what I call the “greenhouse effect”. We set up all the circumstances for students to have learning experiences with the most amount of obstacles out of the way. This is why we have huge classroom libraries, and over plan. Sometimes we do this too well. The goal is for students to have productive struggle in a balance as to not create frustration and shut down. A certain amount of struggle is needed for learning and retention.
Take out a notebook and a pen or your laptop. Set the timer for 7 minutes. Write whatever comes to mind on the topic of:
Possibility and Power – What do these words conjure up for you?
Do not censor yourself. Just write what comes. Keep your pen moving no matter what comes out.
Ok, the timer went off! You can stop. What did you notice about your thoughts are centered around these two ideas? How does that translate to your classroom?
When we are teaching, one of the most powerful questions we can ask is, “What do you think?” and then wait for the answer. When I have asked this question to students I get the blank stare and many times this statement: “No one has ever asked me that before.”
“What do you think?” is a question we need to be posing more often in order to give them writing practice. We ask students to write a genre after giving only one or two models many times. This is simply not fair. Verbalization can allow practice 9-10 times before writing which gives them a much better opportunity to write a higher quality piece with more confidence.
Talking before writing helps students know what they want to write down. It takes practice to figure out what we want to say. (How many drafts of that email to your principal did you write?)
The person who is doing the talking is the one that is doing the learning. Think about the last time you were in your real life classroom. (I know…go WAY back…) who was doing the talking? In my coaching experience, I would venture to guess you will say the teacher unless you teach a curriculum like EL education where student talk is built in. This is a by product of feeling like there is never enough time. Teachers need to “cover” material for students to be exposed. The worst feeling in the world is to not get to a concept which we know is tested on the high stakes exam and feeling like we didn’t even give our students an opportunity to answer even in a minimal way.
A strategy to get them talking is to use what interests them. This can range from Pokemon to zombie ants. Get them excited and engaged and use that talk to your advantage.
Look at your phone and find a picture that is meaningful to you. If you were to share with someone why it was meaningful, what is the story you would tell?
Another way I have encouraged talk before writing in my classroom is to use an idea I learned from Linda Rief. A simple storyboard of 3-6 boxes is a powerful tool for talk. I have students think of an exciting or an embarrassing story to tell their classmates. I set the timer for 5 minutes and have them sketch and stick figure out the story within the 3-6 boxes. Minimal words are used here. There is a limit of 2 words per box.
Then the student tells the story, using their storyboard to a classmate. The listener gives feedback to what they enjoyed about the story and asks questions about where they are confused.
After three rounds of this practice with different partners the students write their story. The amount of detail and flow to the stories after this exercise works wonders.
How could you provide more opportunities for talk before writing in your classroom? I would love to hear about them in the comments!
What Lists to Keep to Move Your Instruction Forward
I am a list keeper.
There is satisfacton in making a checklist and completing the list.
I keep lists in my paper planner and also in my Google Keep app. Keep is on my phone and also provides a checkbox option. I can also transfer any note to a Google Doc. New learning from the last two weeks is that I can share a note with another person. This means personal notes I can share with my teacher gmail account so I have access and edit ability for everything.
For teaching , I toggle back and forth between my planner and what I call the “Rose Binder”. The rose binder is the place I put all the important things. It is where I keep student data before it ends up in the spreadsheet, lists, papers I need to not lose in the abyss of my desk, etc. Why rose binder? The binder I use has a clear sleeve for the cover where I add pictures I like. Many years ago I found a picture of a bouquet of roses from Victoria Magazine which I placed in the front. Voila!
Lists calm my mind because I know important actions have been captured and I do not have to use brain power to repeat things to myself. Lists keep me sane.
For me, my teacher lists ensure I do not lose or forget anything. With as many decisions that need to be made moment to moment this simple tool keeps me focused and on track.
Where To Keep Your Lists
In the back of your paper planner (I use the Passion Planner)
Important Paper Binder (My Rose Binder)
Post it notes (that you adhere to the paper planner or the binder)
Teacher Lists I Keep
For writing instruction
Education article ideas to write
Things to Remember for the Next School year
I add to this list all year – this is where the lightbulb moments for changes to a lesson get logged, the resources you want to add later to a unit, materials you need to make or find, systems to begin, things to let go of, etc.
Things to Buy for my Classroom
Picture Books I need
I buy a lot from thrift stores and Goodwill
Borrow from Library
DMO for school
Project Ideas to Do with Students
Current ones for me: mini gardens using toilet paper rolls, Kindness project, Books for me to write for kids, and Books for the World
Other Lists I Keep
To do for the day
Topic lists to research
Lists of 10 impressions I have noticed within the day
Short Story ideas
Articles to read later
Places to publish
Funny phrases the kids say
Anything I want to remember
DMO (see below)
I keep a list called the DMO – Daily Method of Operation. This is the list you keep that is the minimum for you to have a successful day that comes from Tony Robbins. One thing I have learned recently is that success is subjective. I will also tell you I have been thinking a lot about fulfillment vs achievement.
What is my DMO list you ask?
What are Your Lists?
What are the most important lists you keep? I would love to hear in the comments!
Questions and ideas should be the ax that breaks open the frozen sea within us. -Kafka
How much thought do you put into the questions that come out of your mouth? Do you write out questions to ask in your classroom? Your journal? Are you on automatic pilot?
I love great questions personally and professionally. As an introvert I like to have an ice breaker question ready when in a social situation. I do not mind silence, but I have noticed people around me do not. I am not a fan of the typical, “What do you do for a living?” question. One of my favorites comes from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron which is, “If you could live 5 imaginary lives, what would they be?” I have found this question leads to all kinds of interesting conversations.
Another conversation question I like is: What is inspiring you lately?
In the classroom, I often plan out higher order questions I want to be sure to ask. The lower level questions come to mind more easily but lessons need to contain more than just surface level content. According to research, teacher questions should be varied and from several category types according to Bloom’s Taxonomy in order for them to be effective. These categories are familiar to every teacher I know: knowledge, comprehension, application, synthesis, analysis, and evaluation.
I always love the questions that show how students make connections I would never think of. Connection to other subjects and the world in my experience yield the most interesting conversations. The more questions they students ask, especially the ones that the teacher cannot answer, show students how to research and inquire deeper about their curiosities.
I have found the most effective questions can come from students by having them write questions for each other. I have a space on my board where I pose interesting questions to my students. I love when they suggest one for the next day.
With the high stakes testing becoming the norm, DOK or Depth of Knowledge has been my go-to sentence stems for teaching and coaching. A simple overall breakdown looks like this: DOK 1 have only one answer. DOK 2 you must use information or a concept and usually there are two steps. DOK 3 requires reasoning and usually a more complete answer requiring steps DOK 4 requires synthesis and making a judgment -it requires investigation.
Another simpler method to help teachers if the DOK levels are overwhelming, is “thick and thin question stems” seen below. This is also a great way to teach students to write more robust questions.
Life is better when you ask better questions to others and yourself.
Let’s Talk About Cold Calling
If cold calling is done correctly, it is not a punishment. Many teachers and adults in workshops use it as a tactic to try to control the room by shaming someone who is not paying attention. Don’t do this. It does not motivate anyone to answer you moving forward.
The culture you create in your classroom feeds how your students ask and answer questions. If risk and curiosity is nurtured in the learning environment then they will ask and answer. If you have to shame students into answering your questions, I would examine the engagement and interest level of your lessons.
As a coach I have said many times: Sometimes it is a teacher problem, sometimes it is a student problem and sometimes it is both. Own the areas where you need to improve in order to reach your students.
Cold calling is designed to be a positive technique. You can read more here about it used effectively from Doug Lemov.
What are your favorite questions to ask? What is inspiring you lately? I would love to hear in the comments!